365 Days of Writing: Day 21 – Reading Americanah and Recognizing My Love and Myself

Have you guys read books by the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? She’s a brilliant writer, able to bring the world of Nigeria and the Nigerian diaspora to life. Plus she’s a feminist writer, and that’s awesome 🙂

I first came to know about her through a meme that was floating around Facebook. I saw the meme and recognised a kindred spirit.

Behold the awesomeness!

How could I not want to know all about this person??

Next thing I knew, I was watching a TEDTalk by her –

And then I was buying as many books as I could find that she’d written. And reading them, of course. (I’m halfway through my collection now)

She has an uncanny way of writing complex, dynamic characters – not necessarily likeable, but not truly unlikeable; neither pure nor fully corrupt; vulnerable and fallible. In other words, her characters are very relatably human. Just like you and me. So their trials and tribulations, their desires and aversions feel like my very own.

I felt that resonance especially with Ifemelu, the protagonist in Americanah. I felt that she was speaking with my voice at times in the narrative and it was quite unnerving to say the least. But there was one particular point in the story, very early on that I felt akin to her. It was when she was describing how she felt around Obinze –

” She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: self-affection. He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.”

This was revelatory.

I recall the very moment I was reading this – I was lying in bed next to my SO, and this was just a few months into our relationship; I’d just moved in a short while ago. It was at this moment that I realised that this was the relationship I wanted for the rest of my life. Because that’s how I felt about myself while I was with him – like my skin was my right size. He never made me feel like I had to be different, to change myself. I liked myself more when I was with him, and I with him I felt like I was becoming a better version of myself.

And now, more than a year later I still feel the same way; about him, about myself and about us. Being with him makes me feel at peace. It quietens my inner demons and lets my better judgement prevail.

What about you? Have you ever read a quote from a book that was revelatory about your life in that moment?

365 Days of Writing: Day 17 – Relationship Milestones – Shopping Together

I don’t know about you guys, but I LOVE shopping with my SO. I absolutely love it! It doesn’t matter what we’re shopping for – groceries, clothing, stuff for our dogs, gardening tools – you name it, we love doing it together. Somehow, we manage to make a routine activity fun when we’re together. We realised our “shopping compatibility” early on in our relationship – the first time we went grocery shopping actually.

This has not escaped the notice of those close to us. His sister was very amused when she stayed over with us last year. She followed us to Tesco for some grocery shopping and witnessed first-hand our special form of teasing. She was also quite impressed at our ability to discuss the merits of purchasing a sack of rice – he wanted to get it because it was on sale; I didn’t want to because we already had an unopened bag of rice at home. We eventually decided to pass on the rice since it didn’t really make sense to buy it – things are always on sale in Tesco anyway, and it just wasn’t necessary to buy the rice at that point. So, anyway,we stood there discussing it for close to 15 minutes while she was waiting for us to make a decision. And she realised that it was quite a routine thing for us because we proceeded to do just that for several other items. In the end, it took us about one-and-a-half hours to finish the shopping, precisely because of that.

Apparently, that’s not normal behaviour.

My mum said so when she was subject to the same treatment when she stayed over with us. She was also quite amused at us.

It however is absolutely normal behaviour for us! That’s how we shop. All. The.Time.

I get that it could make others roll their eyes at us though. All that discussing and analysing over a sack of rice or fruits. We don’t do that for every item. I mean, I even make a list before we go shopping. All the stuff on the list doesn’t need any discussion; we’d already have discussed it before heading to the store. So we just buy them. Simple. It’s the stuff that’s not on the list that gets debated upon.

And that is fun.

For us.

That’s because we both have an analysis fetish. We love to analyse things to death. We try to curb that instinct in us at times, but at other times we tend to unleash this instinct. It’s sort of like foreplay for us. Mentally. But I can see why it doesn’t work for everyone.

We discovered this compatibility existed right from the beginning –  on our first date, in fact. It was yet another thing that we had in common. So everything from shopping to movies to books and even our relationship itself gets analysed from time to time. And I can’t even begin to tell you how great it is for me to finally meet someone who loves to debate, to discuss, to exchange opinions about things as much as I do!

It makes me feel that I’m finally not alone. Not anymore.

“We’re all a little weird. And life is weird. And when we find someone
whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall
into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.”
― Robert Fulghum



365 Days of Writing: Day 15 – How to be a Good Neighbour When You Are A Dog Owner And They Aren’t

I woke up late this morning to the sounds of my SO chatting with a woman. I couldn’t hear what was being said except for a few stray words that came floating up to me through the open bedroom window. Words that sounded like “… you shouldn’t get angry… it’s ok.. if you need help…” Those few words were frustratingly vague and without any context I was in the dark about that they were referring to.

By the time I came downstairs, the woman had left. So I asked my SO what the conversation was about. He told me that it was a neighbour from a few houses down the road. She’d come to our house specifically to ask for advice because we have dogs – 3 big ones. Apparently she wanted to know how we dealt with them and how we managed to get them to bark less. She’d been having problems with her neighbours you see, since she herself had a dog – a rescue dog like ours, and the sweetest dog you can meet (I’d met him before and it’s true, he was a very sweet small boy; completely harmless. But her neighbours hated the dog and had been quite nasty towards her since they adopted him – going so far as to threaten her and hint that they would be complaining to the authorities.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’d met the woman and her dog before while I was out for a run about a year ago. She’d just rescued him after finding him quite badly injured from a dog fight. She and her husband had brought him to the vet to get treated and kept him with them while he healed. Of course by the time he healed, the family, including their young daughter had gotten attached to the sweet boy and so they decided to keep him.

The problem was, they have 2 difficult neighbours, one with a cat and they were stuck. The neighbours had grown increasingly nasty towards the dog – to the point to which the woman was afraid that they might just poison the boy when she wasn’t looking. She had taken to keeping him indoors and rarely letting him out onto the porch so as to keep him away from the neighbours’ eyes, but she couldn’t quite stop him from barking excitedly whenever someone passed by the house.

That’s why she’d come to us. She knew that we had the only house in the neighbourhood with 3 big dogs. And somehow, our neighbours were fine with us (My SO had taken care of that even before he moved into this neighbourhood. He’d visited the neighbours to ask if they were ok with him moving in with 3 big dogs and made sure they were all fine before even signing the papers). Plus she’d noticed that the dogs weren’t barking at her or her husband anymore when they passed by our house to walk their rescue dog. So she was asking for advice from my SO. To be honest, we think she was also at the end of her rope and needed someone to vent to (my SO told me that at certain points in the conversation it seemed like she was going to break down in tears).

My guy advised her to look through youtube videos on training dogs to not bark at strangers since she admitted that she was searching for a dog trainer but found them to be too expensive for her budget. He also told her that in case the neighbours did what they’d threatened her with and complained to the authorities, he knew of someone who ran a dog shelter and he could ask him to take the dog in, so no worries. The most important thing though, he advised her, would be for her or her husband to not lose their cool. Always keep things civil when talking to their neighbours – even if the neighbours themselves weren’t capable of it. Because they have more to lose if they let the discussions escalate into arguments. Be civil without being supplicating. There was no need to be apologetic about owning a dog; least of all, rescuing one that needed care.

I think chatting with my SO helped calm her down somewhat. At least she had hope now where she had none before. But I do hope that she manages to train her dog and keep him safe from the nasty neighbours. I would rather her family not have to lose the boy and especially for him not to lose a loving family.

This incident and the other about a guy living in a HDB flat in Singapore (he wrote a post in Facebook about being forced to give up his dogs because of a complaint made by his neighbour) makes me wonder. What is with the nastiness of people? Why can’t people just find ways to get along? And how is it that some people lack any sort of human decency? Why do people only think of complaining and not about finding compromise? These dogs are creatures without a voice, and they depend on the care and love of humans like us. They don’t deserve such animosity.

And these people? The ones without compassion or sympathy? I wonder how they manage to reconcile this lack of empathy and basic decency with themselves.

Do you know of such people? How do you deal with them? How do you deal with bad neighbours? How can you be a good neighbour to an unreasonable one?

365 Days of Writing: Day 14 – For the Love of My Language. My Mother Tongue.

I’d written a post previously about my SO and myself learning each other’s Mother Tongues. So far, the lessons have been going well. I’m using the Duolingo app everyday and I’ve managed to label quite a number of objects around the house with both languages + English for better comprehension.

Labeling stuff really works by the way – even if you don’t realise you’re learning the words, since you see the words daily, they stick to your memory. That’s how I know that a desk is called birou and a chair is scaun in Romanian.

Whilst learning his language, I’ve also been thinking a lot about mine. More accurately, I’ve been thinking guiltily about my lack of practice in conversing, writing and reading in my Mother Tongue in recent years – so much so that it’s come to the point where I find myself mentally searching for everyday words when conversing with my grandmas and relatives in Tamil. That I’m lacking in fluency in Tamil is something I find myself ashamed of a little. More so because I was a star student in Tamil back when I was a student, and was proficient enough to take Tamil literary classes in university.

Over the years however, ever since I’d graduated, my usage of Tamil had lessened while my usage and therefore fluency in English (which had always been good anyway) became even better. I’d sacrificed my aptitude in my Mother Tongue for English, and this was at least partly intentional – I needed to be proficient in English for work, whereas the only people I spoke to primarily in Tamil were my grandmas. I was seeing less of them as time went by, and spending more time at work so my conversational Tamil suffered as a result.

I was also reading exclusively in English everything from news articles to literary novels and anything in-between. My media diet was predominantly in the English language; I seldom watched or listened to anything in Tamil even though just a few years back my media diet was balanced between the two languages.

My SO is just as competent in English, and even though he’s been living away from Romania since his teens, he’s managed to retain his competency in conversing and reading in Romanian. So I asked him how he did it. I mean, yes, his parents only converse with him in Romanian, so that’s part of it. But he only speaks with them once a week or thereabouts. That’s not frequent enough for him to be that fluent in Romanian after all these years.

His secret is that he reads all the sports news in Romanian. Daily. He’s also a huge football fan, so he watches the Romanian league; in Romanian. And that’s how he does it. That’s how he manages to be adept at both languages.

So, learning how he does it has inspired me to follow suit – not in watching football or sports in Tamil; I don’t follow any football league, or sports for that matter. But I intend to read the daily news (at least some of it) in Tamil. Also, songs. I’m going to listen to Tamil songs daily (the good ones; more literary and without having 80% English words thrown in the mix) and translate them. This is a technique my JC teacher used to get us interested in the language. He used to select lyrical Tamil songs from the movies that were also popular and get us to break the verses down and study them. It worked. Those lessons got me interested in learning more because I got hooked onto the beauty of the lyrics. So, that’s what I’m going to do from today. Hopefully, my proficiency in Tamil will return to what it was before.

Wish me luck!

365 Days of Writing: Day 10 – On Language and Communication

I’ve been learning Romanian recently, primarily because we’re flying to Romania soon to visit his parents there and they don’t speak in English. I wanted communication to be smoother with them, but to be perfectly honest, that was only part of the reason why. The other part of me wanted to learn the language because it’s the language of my SO. I wanted to learn more about his culture, and language is a big part of that.

You can learn lots about someone’s culture through their language. For instance, both the Japanese and Korean languages emphasise the differences in addressing someone of equal status or someone of a higher status (in terms of age, or social hierarchy) These forms of address inform much of the way in which Koreans and Japanese interact with people on a daily basis. The Tolkāppiyam  is a work on the grammar of the Tamil language, and is the oldest work of Tamil literature and linguistics. And it recognised transgenders as a neutral gender with a specific mode of address for people of this gender. It referred to both feminine and masculine forms of address for hermaphrodites, based on their personal gender identification. This form of identification meant that transgenders and hermaphrodites were an integral part of the community and not marginalised individuals back then (my how times have changed!). Latin-based languages such as French, Spanish and Romanian assign gender to objects – for instance, in Romanian, a cucumber is male whereas a tomato is female. This is confusing for me because both English and Tamil are gender neutral when it comes to specific objects.

Languages evolve with the people speaking them. That’s why words that never existed before in a certain dialect suddenly exist through interactions with people from other regions and cultures. The Tamil alphabet grew when Tamilians encountered Sanskrit speaking people from the North. The Malay and English languages “borrow” words from languages the people come into contact with. That’s why you have mulligitawny (literally pepper water in Tamil) in English and words like Singa (which means lion in both Tamil and Malay) among multiple others.

I’m from Singapore and it’s a cultural melting pot (or “rojak” in the local lingo). So we speak “Singlish” colloquially, which is a hodgepodge of words from various dialects and langiages – Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese, Tamil with an English base. Although people of my generation and younger speak to each other predominantly in English, those from our grandparents’ generation continue to communicate with each other in a mixture of all their dialects. Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers for instance communicate with their friends from the different racial groups in a mix of Hokkien, Cantonese and Malay. They are both not literate (although my maternal grandma went to primary school until she was 10 years old). It’s quite fascinating to watch all these women of various races speak to each other so comfortably especially since I myself know only a smattering of words from Malay, Cantonese and Hokkien. They are far more fluent than I, their educated granddaughter am, in the various dialects spoken by Singaporeans. It is they who prove that the true purpose of language is to connect people, not divide them.

And that brings me to my favourite commercial. The one with the Polish grandpa learning English. Have you seen it?? It’s a brilliant work by Allegro and hits all the right notes (especially the emotional ones). If you’ve not seen it before, have a look; and try not to cry.